Author: Ethan S. Rafuse

an associate professor of military history at the U.S. Army Command and General Staff College, Fort Leavenworth, Kansas

Stonewall Brigade

The Stonewall Brigade was a collection of five Virginia infantry regiments and an artillery battery in the Confederate Army of Northern Virginia during the American Civil War (1861–1865). Trained and first led by Thomas J. “Stonewall” Jackson, it was perhaps the most accomplished—and certainly one of the most famous—units of its kind in American military history. The brigade saw action in many of the bloodiest battles of the war, from First Manassas (1861) to Antietam (1862) to Gettysburg (1863) to Spotsylvania Court House (1864), losing only a single engagement under Jackson’s command but also losing more than 96 percent of its men by 1865.


Meade, George Gordon (1815–1872)

George G. Meade was a Union major general and one of the most important commanders of the American Civil War (1861–1865). He defeated Robert E. Lee and the Army of Northern Virginia in the Battle of Gettysburg (1863) and led the main Union army in Virginia until the end of the war. Still, U.S. president Abraham Lincoln was often dissatisfied with the prudence and caution that characterized Meade’s generalship. That, combined with a prickly personality that led some to refer to Meade as a “goggled eyed snapping turtle,” played a significant role in Ulysses S. Grant’s decision to assume principal direction of the Union war effort in Virginia from 1864 to 1865.


Heth, Henry (1825–1899)

Henry “Harry” Heth (pronounced “Heeth”) was first a brigade then a division commander in the Confederate army during the American Civil War (1861–1865). He distinguished himself during Braxton Bragg’s Kentucky campaign (1862) before being transferred, by order of Robert E. Lee, to the Army of Northern Virginia, where he served under A. P. Hill. As one of the most popular officers in an unusually tight-knit army, Heth is said to be the only general Lee addressed by his given name. Heth took over a division at the Battle of Chancellorsville (1863) and is best known for his role in precipitating the Battle of Gettysburg (1863). His generalship was distinguished by a tendency toward aggressiveness that produced mixed results.


Hampton Roads Conference

The Hampton Roads Conference convened on February 3, 1865, in an attempt to find a negotiated settlement to the American Civil War (1861–1865). As Confederate prospects for survival deteriorated, leaders on both sides met aboard the River Queen at Union-controlled Hampton Roads, Virginia. They included U.S. president Abraham Lincoln and Secretary of State William H. Seward, as well as Confederate vice president Alexander H. Stephens, Assistant Secretary of War John A. Campbell, and Confederate Senator Robert M. T. Hunter of Virginia. In spite of such high-level participation, the meeting lasted only four hours and accomplished little.


Ewell, Richard S. (1817–1872)

Richard S. Ewell was a Confederate lieutenant general during the American Civil War (1861–1865) who apprenticed under Thomas J. “Stonewall” Jackson during the Shenandoah Valley Campaign of 1862, and later took charge of the Army of Northern Virginia‘s Second Corps after Jackson’s death. Nicknamed “Old Bald Head” and said to be “blisteringly profane,” Ewell courted controversy with his decision not to attack Cemetery Hill on the first day of the Battle of Gettysburg (1863). Some historians have claimed that Ewell’s inaction in this episode cost the Confederates the battle, although Robert E. Lee‘s orders on the matter were vague and it is unclear whether Ewell’s men could have carried the day in any case.


Davis, Jefferson (1808–1889)

Jefferson Davis was a celebrated veteran of the Mexican War (1846–1848), a U.S. senator from Mississippi (1847–1851; 1857–1861), secretary of war under U.S. president Franklin Pierce (1853–1857), and the only president of the Confederate States of America during the American Civil War (1861–1865). Tall, lean, and formal, Davis was considered to be an ideal leader of the Confederacy upon his election in 1861, despite the fact that he neither sought the job nor particularly wanted it. Davis was a war hero, slaveholder, and longtime advocate of states’ rights who nevertheless was not viewed to be a radical “fire-eater,” making him more appealing to the hesitating moderates in Virginia. Still, Davis’s reputation suffered over the years. Searing headaches, caused in part by facial neuralgia, exacerbated an already prickly personality. “I have an infirmity of which I am heartily ashamed,” he said. “When I am aroused in a matter, I lose control of my feelings and become personal.” The challenges inherent in holding together a wartime government founded on the idea of states’ rights didn’t help, either, nor did critics like E. A. Pollard, editor of the Richmond Examiner, who charged after the war that the Lost Cause was “lost by the perfidy of Jefferson Davis.” Robert E. Lee, however, spoke for many when he said, “You can always say that few people could have done better than Mr. Davis. I knew of none that could have done as well.”


CSS Virginia

The CSS Virginia was an ironclad ship in the Confederate navy during the American Civil War (1861–1865). The first American warship of its kind—prior to 1862, all navy vessels were made of wood—it was constructed in order to attack the ever-tightening Union blockade on the Confederacy’s major Atlantic ports and harbors. The CSS Virginia‘s launch in March 1862 provided one of the first truly unmistakable signs of a revolution in naval warfare that would transform the conduct of war at sea during the nineteenth century. It quickly met its match, however, in a hastily constructed, Swedish-engineered Union ironclad, the USS Monitor, at the Battle of Hampton Roads (1862). By April 1862, the Confederacy’s 3,500 miles of coastline were largely lost (only Wilmington, North Carolina, and Charleston, South Carolina, remained under Confederate control), and in May of that year, the Virginia was intentionally destroyed.


Fredericksburg, Battle of

The Battle of Fredericksburg at the end of 1862 was perhaps the Confederacy’s most lopsided victory of the American Civil War (1861–1865). Union Major General Ambrose E. Burnside, charged with aggressively pursuing and destroying General Robert E. Lee’s Army of Northern Virginia, instead led his own Army of the Potomac to what was perhaps its greatest defeat. On December 13, Burnside sent six Union divisions across an open field against Lee’s well-fortified line, causing such slaughter that Burnside wept openly at the outcome and Lee was inspired to utter his famous remark to his subordinates, “It is well that war is so terrible. We should grow too fond of it.” The Fredericksburg defeat was one of the lowest points for Union fortunes in the war. Eight months later, when Confederates experienced a similar fate at Gettysburg, jubilant Union troops were heard to yell, “Fredericksburg! Fredericksburg!”

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